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Haiti: It Just Takes Time

When a disaster of the magnitude of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti strikes, rebuilding just takes time.

That is what the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee would tell anyone who wonders if relief efforts are going too slowly.

CRWRC collected more than $10 million for relief efforts, much of it from Christian Reformed churches and individuals, and it says spending the money well is more important than just spending it.

That means taking a holistic long-term approach and leaving a legacy, said Ron Fuller, one of CRWRC’s disaster-relief managers currently in Haiti. That legacy includes shelters that can withstand Haiti’s frequent hurricanes, land rights or rental agreements that provide security, treatment of emotional trauma, and investing in long-term livelihoods.

CRWRC is focusing its work in the Leogane region, the earthquake’s epicenter 29 kilometers (18 miles) west of Port au Prince. There 85 percent of the population of 90,000 lost their homes.

Initially, CRWRC focused on keeping people fed and sheltered, with 2,000 tarps, two months’ worth of food for 3,000 households, and cash for personal hygiene supplies.

As recovery advances, a tool-loaning program has begun, rubble has been cleared, and wells and latrines have been dug. The focus now is on helping people move out of tents and camps and back to their own properties.

In many cases, wooden structures called transitional shelters are built on the concrete pads where people’s homes formerly stood. That’s important, said Fuller. “If we can house people on their same property, then their social network, the community fabric, stays intact. They have the same neighbors, their kids can play with the same kids, and it’s a much healthier environment.”

But getting supplies to build the shelters is difficult. Everything available in Haiti is used up. CRWRC has a local Haitian supplier who can import supplies faster than businesses from the U.S. and Europe can. “It is a very complex system and we’re fortunate to deal with Haitian suppliers who know how it works,” Fuller said.

CRWRC has five crews that employ 20 Haitians, half of whom are graduates of the local technical school and are very skilled. They are paired with workers from the communities where the homes are being built. The goal is to build 1,200 shelters by January.

Another issue important to resolve is land ownership, which is complicated by the fact that records were lost in the earthquake.

“We want to give people as much security as possible so no one can take their house away in the future,” Fuller said. For owners, that means proving ownership with witnesses. For renters, that means establishing that they own the home being built and arranging land rental agreements with the property owner.

In the meantime, back in Port au Prince, the employees of Sous Espwa have returned to their regular development work. They were the ones who provided the initial response after the quake struck (see Banner, March 2010).

Sous Espwa, which means “Source of Hope” in Haitian Creole, is a combined ministry of CRWRC, Christian Reformed World Missions, and Back to God Ministries International.

CRWRC’s Ad DeBlaeij said that even Sous Espwa’s normal activities now involve relief because the ministry partners they work with were affected by the earthquake.

One ministry partner is CRECH, a Haitian organization that supports Christian education for Haitian children. With schools that are damaged or destroyed, children who are traumatized, and parents who can no longer pay tuition, CRECH has needed much support.

“It is very important for kids to go back to school,” said DeBlaeij, “not only so they don’t lose their year, but also to get back into a normal routine.”

Another ministry partner that trains deacons has a deacon who has ended up being in charge of one of the displaced-persons camps. Sous Espwa is helping that camp by building latrines, providing tools to clean drains, and more.

Less visible, but crucial to moving forward, is helping Haitians deal with emotional trauma. In Leogane, trained social workers convene community groups to encourage people to talk about what happened to them. In Port au Prince, Sous Espwa helps ministry partners train teachers and pastors to help their students and parishioners. Support is provided to Haitian Christian Reformed churches all over the country.

By July 2011, CRWRC hopes to have helped 2,000 households, or 5 percent of the population of Leogane.

Fuller said the staff feels the pressure every day. “We drive 25 miles through devastated communities. You can get overwhelmed by mile after mile of need,” he said.

They know they can’t help everyone. But they know that for the people they can help, the work accomplished now will leave a legacy for a more secure future.

For more on the CRC’s work in Haiti, including video footage, please visit www.crwrc.org.

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

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